Saturday, December 23, 2006

Winona's Bishop Harrington Starts Relief Fund For His Dioceses' Swift Employees

Winona Bishop Bernard Harrington has started a fund to help families separated after immigration agents arrested 230 workers at a Swift meat plant in Worthington, Minn., last week in what he called an “attempt to enforce the laws of a broken immigration system.” Harrington set aside $10,000 of the Catholic diocese’s funds and asked his followers to contribute and to work and pray for “meaningful immigration reform.”

About 200 families were affected, most in St. Mary’s parish in Worthington, said Suzanne Belongia, director of social action for the diocese. The diocese estimates there are also affected families in Albert Lea and Austin. “We’ve got many requests from people who need help,” she said. “The need is out there.”

Harrington said breadwinners have been detained, leaving families without resources and the money will help pay for food, heating bills and rent.

The raid also spread fear among Hispanics, Harrington said. “There are people living in darkness, afraid to go out.”

The raid netted a total of 1,282 workers in six plants across the country in what Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff called the largest-ever workplace crackdown on illegal immigration.

About 5 percent of the overall arrests resulted in identity theft charges or other criminal violations, such as re-entry after deportation — but none of those were in Minnesota. The rest of the detainees were held on suspected violations of immigration laws.

There are about 30,000 Hispanic members in the diocese, which spans southern Minnesota, Harrington said. In the last 8 years, the diocese has gone from offering two Spanish Masses to 15.

Three parishes in Worthington, Austin and Albert Lea are nearly half Hispanic, Harrington said.

Harrington said the country needs an immigration policy that protects the borders but also “welcomes all God’s children to work with dignity and to provide for a better life for their families within our borders.”

“We need a process in which (those already here) can enter into the mainstream,” he said.

Harrington said the church will need tens of thousands of dollars to care for the splintered families.

“Christmas will come and Christmas will go,” he said. “The needs of human life go on.” Winona Daily News

Tidings of comfort and joy

With Christmas parties, Christmas cookies, Christmas decorations and Christmas presents, it’s pretty easy to get self-centered in the next few days. It’s pretty easy to miss some in our area who are hurting — like those whose families have been split up because of a raid by U.S. immigration officials in Worthington.

The recent raids there have reverberated in communities like Albert Lea and Austin — not far from our area. Diocese of Winona Bishop Bernard Harrington hasn’t forgotten about them at a time when it would be easy to overlook their need. To help the families that have been separated — some in which parents have been taken from children — Harrington established a “Holy Family Relief Fund” through Catholic Charities. The diocese made the first payment of $10,000 and now is asking parishioners and businesses to contribute. And, the fund shouldn’t just be a call for the Catholic faithful, it should be an effort supported regardless of religious creed.

We praise the bishop for this forward-thinking effort. This type of action seems to strike at the heart of Christian theology and the commandment of Christ at the end of John’s Gospel, when Christ tells Peter, “Tend to my sheep.”

Harrington is indeed looking after his flock, providing not only for their spiritual needs, but for their day-to-day survival. Moreover, his leadership in the region is appreciated.

But his statement, issued Friday and printed on this page, shows more than just an immediate concern with the well-being of those displaced — it shows a broad concern with the social justice of the Worthington raids.

In a statement, Harrington said, “Many questions remain about the type of treatment these packing plant workers received and the appropriateness of the methods used during the raids… Families that have lost their breadwinner now face a winter of uncertainty with no idea how long detainees will be held.”

We should all have questions about the methods the U.S. government used. It is probably another example in an all-too-frequent line of events that show the dysfunction of our immigration policy. And, most of us should cringe just a little when we realize our families are not so far removed from being strangers in a strange land ourselves.

We join with Bishop Harrington as he calls for us to “remember the families … who have been fractured by this attempt to enforce the laws of a broken immigration system.”

Let that be part of our prayer this holiday season.


Interestingly, it appears that Swift & Company has been using the records of the Social Security Administration to assist them in determining whether or not its employees are eligible for work in the United States. But apparently the Immigration officials and those at the SSA don't seem to be on the same wave length.

It is also interesting that it took about 1,000 Immigration, Border Patrol and Customs officials to arrest the 1,300 illegal immigrants who were employed at various Swift & Company plants. Can you imagine what that cost to assemble an ad hoc group like that in areas where they don't live and provide them with needed facilities while waiting for all to be ready?

Of course there are probably more than 1,300 illegal immigrants crossing our borders each days where we do have "security." And maybe 20,000,000 are already here, and employed in other companies.

Washington, we have a problem and you don't know what to do about it and the poorest of the poor are the ones who get to pay for it.

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